Which is worse? To be pleased with another person’s misfortune or to be displeased with another person’s good fortune? German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer argued that to feel envy is human, but to enjoy other people’s misfortune is diabolical.
In Ezekiel 35, God notices the “harm-joy” of the Edomites who were sniggering over Judah’s crash and burn. Since the Jews had been deported out of their land, the Edomites thought that it was theirs for the taking. They didn’t know that the LORD was still there—and he was about to “vindicate the holiness of [his] great name which has been profaned among the nations” (Ezek 35:10; 36:16-23). God will clear his name and provide a radical change of heart and behavior among his own people.
“I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you” (Ezek 36:26). People will need to be completely transformed from the inside out. We’ll need to think differently and desire different things to follow the Lord. Proof of having received “a new heart and a new spirit” is that we are more concerned for God’s reputation and glory then for our own. This spiritual heart transplant is like being born again (John 3:7). It’s like becoming an entirely new creation (2 Cor 5:17). It’s like dead, dry bones coming to life (Ezek 37:1-10).
The last time God lead Ezekiel into a valley he was unable to speak for five years. What would happen now? In chapter 37, Ezekiel sees a grisly scene of disconnected skeletons—as if an entire army battalion had been wiped out. The dry, bleached bones were of people long dead. Suddenly, God blurts out to Ezekiel, “Preach to the dead: you will live!” (37:4-6). The bones began to rattle and come together, and flesh appeared on them—but they were still dead until God blurts out again to Ezekiel, “Preach to the corpses: ‘Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live” (37:9-10). God will not only bring forth the miracle of new existence; he will also bring forth the miracle of new unity. It would be like taking two sticks and making them one (37:15-23).
As Israel’s sin mirrored humanity’s fallenness, so too, their restoration foreshadowed God’s redemption of all of humanity. Jesus’s resurrection fulfilled the vision of Ezekiel (because it includes Israel’s restoration). The breath of life came from the “four winds” which means that God’s Spirit is at work everywhere, in all directions, throughout the earth under the reign of the Son of David, Jesus, the Good Shephard-King (37:22-25).
Paul saw this and broadened the dry bones vision by saying, “you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked” (Eph 2:1). Like Israel, we had no hope, no life. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (2:4-5). The nations are no longer “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel” (2:12). Jesus not only brings forth the miracle of new existence; he also brings forth the miracle of new unity. “He himself is our peace, who has made us both one”—Jew and Gentile—“that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two” (2:13-15).
But what about the land? Jesus’s description of Jerusalem as “the city of the Great King” emphasizes the city’s historical calling as the place that signifies God’s reign over the entire earth (Matt 5:35). The “holy” city has been “set apart” to God no matter what human agency claims authority over it (Matt 4:5; 27:53). It is the place where Christ redeemed humanity and it is the place where Christ will return to vindicate his name and resurrect the living and the dead. In the meantime, we keep preaching to the dead.